By Debbi Wingracki,
Toms River Township
TOMS RIVER–Through translator Joel Challender, a group of Japanese researchers toured storm-ravaged parts of Toms River Township hoping to learn from us. The visitors have already been through one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history, and a subsequent tsunami that wiped out entire towns in 2011 in their native Japan. Yet, they still have many of the same problems that Hurricane Sandy victims do.
Katsumi Seki, a Kyoto University Visiting Professor from the Crisis & Environmental Management Policy Institute, along with eight other researchers, asked a myriad of questions ranging from evacuation procedures to working with FEMA to the proposed changing landscape that will occur when residents raise their homes, as per FEMA guidelines. Mayor Thomas Kelaher, Assistant Township Planner Erika Stahl and Acting Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Daley fielded questions in Town Hall and also arranged a tour of Ortley Beach homes and the surrounding area.
Kelaher said, “I initially thought these men wanted to visit our town to give us advice, but it turns out that they wanted to learn from us. Their loss of life from the tsunami is unfortunately in the tens of thousands and we’re proud that our evacuation procedures set in place resulted in no loss of life. Mr. Seki asked Paul Daley about our specific plans for evacuations and how we go about alerting residents.
Mr. Seki extended his condolences for our suffering and thanked Mayor Kelaher for the informative session. Seki said, “On March 11, 2011 in Japan, we suffered an enormous amount of devastation and we are now rebuilding. It was not just the tsunami, but we have considerable damage from previous storm surges. We came to the U.S. to see what’s going on at the ground level so we can make Japan more stable and use counter-measures. We have coastal levees in Japan, but with a tsunami predicted every 1,000 years, we can’t build high enough. Based on the principles we know, we are advising homeowners not to rebuild in certain areas.”
Seki added, “In Japan, communities all have to agree to the same thing; either build higher, accept a buy-out, or everyone moves. As far as debris, except for the Fukushima power plant (where only 17% of the debris has been removed) there is a timetable for all of the rubble. It takes an incredible amount of time to incinerate and we have to transport the debris to different parts of Japan.”